All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for January 2004

Builder donates work to start Habitat home

Jan 24, 2004
Bill Rettew
The Phoenix

Open Hearth, Inc. is partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Chester County to build a handicapped-accessible home on Griffen Street.

Framing of the home and installation of the roof trusses was completed this week in two-and-a-half-days from Wednesday to Friday. Builder Steve O'Neill, of O'Neill Home Corp. of Chadds Ford, oversaw the project and paid the $3,000 cost out of pocket for a team of subcontractors to do the work.

"We try to give back to all of the community and the communities that we build in," said O'Neill. "We're fortunate and we like to give back."

The proposed Griffen Street residence will be the 73rd home built by Habitat for Humanity of Chester County.

Habitat builds homes at a fraction of the cost with the help of volunteers, while requiring that each prospective adult home owner contribute 200 hours of "sweat equity," or volunteer work, toward the project.

Habitat's mission statement reads, "A model for building a decent, affordable, owner-occupied housing that works ... for the homeowner ... for the neighborhood ... for the community."

This will be Habitat for Humanity of Chester County's first stab at building a handicapped-accessible home, plus their first construction partnership with other nonprofit organizations.

Residential Living Options is a Downingtown-based non-profit organization that administers funds to low and moderate-income residents with permanent disabilities to make their current residences more accessible.

Resident Living Options introduced Open Hearth to home beneficiaries F. Alexander Brejcha and his wife, Tatjana Belinkina. Both Brejcha and his wife have multiple sclerosis.

Brejcha is a 1976 graduate of Phoenixville Senior High and has been a paraplegic since 1985. He works as a telephone operator and code/trauma dispatcher a Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia. Belinkina has a masters degree as a technical Russian/English translator and instructor of English. Both are disability activists.

The home is one story and ramps will ease entry for a homeowner in a wheelchair. There will be plenty of room for a wheelchair to be comfortably used.

"This is a model of an innovative way for three organizations coming together in a way that one would not be able to do alone," said Eric Forsythe, executive director of Open Hearth.

Brejcha currently uses a wheelchair and Belinkina utilizes a walker.

Chip Houston, executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Chester County, said that the Griffen Street home will require 3,500 volunteer hours or approximately 400 volunteer worker days to complete.

"Without the volunteers we'd just be another builder," said Houston. "Our goal is to serve the people in our communities."

"As a Christian organization we don't exclude anybody. We can't do it alone. It requires everybody."

Phoenixville native Houston said, "It's a chance for me to give back to the community that raised me."

Habitat site supervisor Lou Bagoly was working outside at the home on Griffen Street on Friday while temperatures failed to reach the 20s.

"We build a good, solid house," said Bagoly. "It takes a bit longer than a conventional organization would take, because our volunteers are a little slower but with big hearts."

Bagoly said that construction should last a year and the house should be completed this summer.

Forsythe said that none of a $50,000 county grant from the Department of Commercial Development for construction of the home will pay for administration costs.

"It's all going to pay for the building itself," said Forsythe.

In addition to the "sweat equity" requirement, home buyers are required to invest a $1,000 down payment and assume a 20-to-30-year mortgage based upon the homeowners ability to pay. Forsythe said that in this case, the homeowners will likely assume a mortgage of about $70,000.

"(Habitat) acts as the land speculator, builder, social service agency, mortgage banker and tax agency all in one," said Forsythe.

In addition to the three non-profit organization previously listed, a sign posted at the house thanks the County of Chester, Carneval Eustes Architects and O'Neill Home Corp.

O'Neill wanted to also thank project manager Bob Roberts for his work as supervisor on the "front line."

Habitat will hold its first volunteer celebration Sat. Feb. 7, 2004, at the Inn of Chester Springs in Lionville. For information, call Habitat at (610) 384-7993, ext 10. Ask for Jennifer. Habitat may be contacted at the same number. For more information, go to

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